The History of Archives

Archives of Antiquity 

Historian Ernst Posner theorized that the Sumerians ran the first archive sometime between 4000 BC and 3000 BCE. Archives in China are believed to be nearly as old. Their data storage mediums of choice were inscribed tortoise shells and bones. These literal hard-copy documents held religious and administrative information.

By 700 BC, stone, silk or bamboo-based tablets held records in secured buildings, including what at the time would have been considered classified military documents.

Ancient Athens had its own archive in a temple dedicated to Metroon, the mother of the gods. The archival purpose was essentially the same for the Greeks as it is for us today, storing everything from plays written by Sophocles and Euripides to meeting minutes, laws and decrees, records of court proceedings, contracts and financial records.

Although the Greek version of democracy had its share of undemocratic norms compared to our modern standards, there was some emphasis put on transparency. The Metroon archive is believed to be one of the first to offer public access to records.

In fact, the word archive can be traced back to the Greek word archeion, or the office of the archon–a magistrate that stored records. The Latin word archivum also denoted the residence of the magistrate and the location of legal and administrative records.

Modern Archives

The United States National Archives

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s legacy is full of impactful contributions to U.S. history. With so many lasting legacies, people frequently forget–or simply never learn–that FDR signed the legislation that officially founded the U.S. National Archives.

Although FDR didn’t originate the idea, he was the president to urge legislators to get the National Archives bill written and ultimately shepherded it across the finish line.

The National Archives plays a complex role as a social, cultural and governmental store of classified and public records. The building most frequently associated with the National Archives is the original National Archives building in Washington, D.C., but that structure is just the headquarters of a nationwide network of facilities that include federal records centers, regional archives and presidential libraries.

Is the U.S. National Archives Digitized?

Digitization is an ongoing process at the National Archives. The National Archives and Records Administration drafted a 2018 – 2022 strategic plan that set a target date for digitizing 500 million pages of records by October 1, 2024. You can browse the documents currently available by visiting

Introducing the The National Archives (TNA) UK

Some of the founding documents stored in the U.S. National Archives are practically new compared to the UK’s National Archives, which contains some national documents dating back more than 1,000 years. The entity known as the National Archives (TNA) in the UK is younger than its U.S. counterpart, having been founded in 2003. It arose from the formal combination of four separate entities: the Public Record Office (PRO), the Historical Manuscripts Commission, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO).

The parent department of the TNA is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The TNA also boasts an impressive collection of digitized records that can be browsed through

How Archive Management Software Changed Archiving

On a fundamental level there was little difference between the Metroon temple archives and the archives of the 20th century. Physical records were stored and safeguarded.

As with nearly every other industry on the planet, computing and the internet changed archiving. Digitization and the ability to provide fast, immediate access to users around the world is a revolutionizing change in archiving.

Archive management systems have also been a boon for institutions themselves. Providing unfettered access to an archive allows more people to use it and find value in the information.

Archive management software has also revolutionized the way materials can be catalogued and searched. Archivists and librarians can customize metadata and set hierarchical relationships between entries, significantly improving the ease with which searchers can find relevant information while also adding depth and context to their archives.

Partner With Soutron on Your Archive Management System   

Soutron Global, a leading developer of archive management software, can help your organization build out a customized, highly functional digital archive solution. You can learn more about our archive management software and its many capabilities by browsing our website or contacting us for a demo.


A Timeline of Archive Management



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